Signs of the Times

by Victor Davis Hanson

PJ Media

Trimalchio’s Bowl

Sometime during the reign of the emperor Nero, the novelist and imperial confidant Petronius wrote a novel about life among the Roman nouveau richein the Bay of Naples. The surviving centerpiece of the now mostly lost novel is an extended banquet scene at the zillionaire freedman Trimalchio’s house, where money, entertainment, and self-indulgence meet. Sunday’s Super Bowl’s festivities were something like Trimalchio’s dinner — which I urge you all sometime to read. It is a brilliant novel and a tragedy that most of it is lost.

Christina Aguilera did not quite sing all the national anthem. That might be considered shocking, given that Superbowl Sunday has become America’s signature cultural event. But the lapse was hardly surprising in today’s era where millions no longer lead off their school mornings, assemblies, and meetings with the pledge of allegiance or the singing of the “Star Spangled Banner.” The better question in these times is how in the world did Ms. Aguilera get most of her lines right?

There have been wretched halftime shows, I know, given the impossibility of staging such outdoor performances. But I don’t recall anything quite like the talentless, self-congratulatory shouting of a group called “Black Eyed Peas.” Take away the smoke, the fireworks, the light shows, the Star Wars costumes, the North Korean-like supporting dancers, the Leni Riefenstahl sets, and what was left was some off-key yelling and frenetic prancing — half Road Warrior, half high-school bleacher noise — nothing remotely akin to music, but eerily similar to the sort of shrill musical interruptions that characterize Trimalchio’s feast.

Some strange man, I think, was lowered in on a rope, and I think we were supposed to be delighted about his appearance. But he muttered almost nothing, and Elvis decades ago had crafted a far more impressive sequined outfit. The fact that Barack Obama has borrowed over $3 trillion in just two years did not register with the suddenly politically concerned Black Eyed Peas, who at one point pleaded for Obama to borrow even more money: “Obama, let’s get these kids educated / Create jobs so the country stays stimulated.” If singers can’t sing, why would we expect that they could think? Apparently, lip service to some progressive cause is supposed to do what supposed music cannot?

There were numerous commercials and previews of movies to come; but I can remember none of them. They all became a blur of car crashes, explosions, computer animated fire breathing monsters, and assorted toy dinosaur-like creatures. Blowing stuff up and postmodern mini-plots to no purpose were supposed to make us buy beer, cars, and go back to the movies.

I have nothing much to say about the super-hyped O’Reilly/Obama pre-Super Bowl interview. When the president said that he had not raised taxes, I recalled in a nanosecond various “fees” that have been hiked and, of course, all the embedded taxes in the new healthcare bill and his opposition to the continuance of the Bush-era tax rates — waited for the polite rebuttal to come, heard none, and turned off the television.

Some Questions

Some readers sent me some questions; here are a few answers.

1) What do I think of the Starz “Spartacus: Gods of the Arena” series? Brilliantly marketed. How does one offer gratuitous violence and raunchy sex? Easy — remind that the Romans did both, offer a sort of historical script tangentially related to Spartacus (less so apparently this season), and hope that the right, angry at the sex, won’t mind the violence, and the left, angry at the violence, won’t mind the sex. That said, there were a few gifted British actors, but otherwise it was well-done soft-porn.

2) Did I read the current Commentary article on Rush Limbaugh? Yes, and I am on record as impressed with Limbaugh, always have been. Great article by Wilfred McClay. I wouldn’t last one hour on the air. How does one for 20 years comment three hours per day on current events, earn an audience of 20 million, have no insider contacts with the DC-NY ruling class, come out of the Midwest, fend off rivals and emulators yearly, and combine voice imitations, bombast, astute and incisive analysis, parody — all ad hoc? No one else can do it; those that have tried, from O’Reilly to Air America, proved that well enough. It would require a Don Rickles, Charles Krauthammer, Rich Little, William F. Buckley, George Will, etc. all in one. The ignorant write off Limbaugh as a overweight demagogue; the not so ignorant conclude that he is a genius of sorts that figured out the myriad of hypocrisies of the liberal cultural elite and created an entire industry ex nihilo at their expense.

3) Any comments about The Huffington Post sale? Hmmm. A P.T. Barnum con. She reminds me of a Jay Gould or even a Carnegie, Rockefeller, or Mellon. Think of the Robber Barron model: Dream up a far left website that allows celebrities and wannabe celebrities to post their rantings that otherwise would never be published. Give them respectability by offering space to ranting academics and politicians, who in turn like telling colleagues that they appeared online next to a film sort of star. (Academics dream of being actors; actors dream of being professors). Bring in readers with lurid National Enquirer-like T&A photos and stories about celebrity drug and sex escapades. Pay almost nothing to the left-wing, anti-capitalist contributors, claiming an absence of revenue in such a grassroots, cobbled together, one-day-ahead-of-the-creditors public service — and then cash out to an idiotic corporation for a $315 million payout that will never recoup its “investment” — railing on the way to the bank about capitalism’s two societies from exile in Brentwood. How cagey is that? Mansion-living John Edwards’ two-Americas brilliant; Al Gore’s global-warming/pay-me-for-your-salvation brilliant; Michael Moore hating capitalism/suing for another $3 million in profits to top his $20 million for his mythodrama brilliant.

Odds and Ends

We just had a cancellation and an open cabin come up; anyone interested in our June Tyrrhenian sea cruise and trip to sites and accompanying lectures on military history, ancient and modern, should sign up asap.

Two new books came in the mail. I am reading Donald Rumsfeld’s massive memoir Known and Unknown and find it hard to put down. Bruce Thornton’sThe Wages of Appeasement arrived; the last third of the book on jihad is eerily prescient in the current Egyptian context of Western welcoming of the Muslim Brotherhood. Both are riveting books.

I give a public lecture at 11AM Thursday at Pepperdine in Malibu on a book in progress, The Savior Generals. I am offering a class there on Friday mornings for a semester.

©2011 Victor Davis Hanson

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